October 09, 2023 4 min read

Sleep is essential for your health, well-being, and ability to function. But getting a good night’s rest doesn't always come easy. In fact, up to 30% of the general population experiences sleep problems, mostly due to insomnia [1].  


According to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics, 18% of sleep-deprived US adults turn to prescription pills in the hopes of improving their sleep [2]. While sleep medications can be a great option for short-term insomnia, experts advise against long-term use due to possible side effects and interference with other medications. Plus, they can be addictive. 


Natural sedatives can be a safer and better alternative to those seeking help for their insomnia. 

What Are Natural Sedatives?

Natural sedatives are herbs, vitamins, and supplements that induce feelings of calm, reduce anxiety, and promote sleep. The word “natural” can be misleading, however. While some products labeled “natural” are derived from plants and other living organisms, many are man-made. 


Still, natural sedatives tend to have fewer side effects and are non-addictive, which is why many people struggling with insomnia turn to them. These products tend to be less potent than prescription medication, but their mechanism of action is similar. 


But how exactly do they work?

According to a systematic review published inNutrients,natural sedatives work by interacting with GABA receptors and influencing GABAergic signaling in the brain [3]. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a chemical messenger in the brain that blocks nerve signals. It enables you to relax and fall asleep.

4 Natural Sedatives for Better Sleep

If you have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, there are natural remedies that may be helpful. It’s a good idea to speak to your doctor first before trying these products as well as practicing good sleep hygiene. 


1. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland and helps regulate sleep. It is also available in its synthetic form as a supplement. Considered safe and effective, melatonin is recommended as a first-line pharmacologic therapy for insomnia by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) [4]. 


Melatonin can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Studies found that people taking this sleep aid reported better sleep quality compared to those taking a placebo [4]. Melatonin has been studied and recommended as a treatment for: 


  • Insomnia
  • Jet lag
  • Shift work sleep disorder
  • Sleep problems due to brain injury/disease

2. Valerian root

Native to Europe and parts of Asia, valerian root has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. It has sedative and anxiolytic effects, which is why it is also a popular sleep aid. 


A systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 studies and over 1,000 patients found that those taking valerian were 80% more likely to report improved sleep compared to those taking placebo [5]. 


Valerian root is available in capsule and tablet form. It can also be taken as a tea. While it is considered safe for most people, it can make you feel drowsy, so be careful taking it when operating a vehicle. It may also not be safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as those with liver disease.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that serves as a cofactor in hundreds of enzymatic reactions. It also plays a big role in sleep by regulating the GABAergic system. More specifically, it binds to GABA receptors to activate them and calm the nervous system. Magnesium also prompts muscle relaxation. Additionally, studies show that magnesium depletion leads to lower melatonin levels [6].


For all these reasons, supplementing your diet with 310–420 mg daily can help you get a good night’s sleep.

4. Tart cherry juice

Montmorency tart cherries are a natural source of the antioxidant form of melatonin. While many plants have this antioxidant, tart cherries have exceptionally high concentrations of it. Studies have found that drinking tart cherry juice improves subjective sleep quality in people with insomnia [7].


These studies have also found that subjects drinking tart cherry juice had elevated levels of melatonin in their urine and have measured objective sleep quality using actigraphy devices. All in all, tart cherry juice is a low-calorie and easily available option for those dealing with mild insomnia. 


References:


  1. Bhaskar S, Hemavathy D, Prasad S. Prevalence of chronic insomnia in adult patients and its correlation with medical comorbidities.J Family Med Prim Care. 2016 Oct-Dec;5(4):780-784.doi: 10.4103/2249-4863.201153. PMID: 28348990; PMCID: PMC5353813.

  1. Reuben C, Elgaddal N, Black LI. Sleep Medication Use in Adults Aged 18 and Over: United States, 2020. NCHS Data Brief. 2023 Jan;(462):1-8. PMID: 36700855.https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db462.pdf

  1. Bruni O, Ferini-Strambi L, Giacomoni E, Pellegrino P. Herbal Remedies and Their Possible Effect on the GABAergic System and Sleep.Nutrients. 2021 Feb 6;13(2):530.doi: 10.3390/nu13020530. PMID: 33561990; PMCID: PMC7914492. 

  1. Savage RA, Zafar N, Yohannan S, Miller JMM. Melatonin. 2022 Aug 8. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 30521244.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30521244/

  1. Bent S, Padula A, Moore D, Patterson M, Mehling W. Valerian for sleep: a systematic review and meta-analysis.Am J Med. 2006 Dec;119(12):1005-12.doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2006.02.026. PMID: 17145239; PMCID: PMC4394901.

  1. Zhang Y, Chen C, Lu L, Knutson KL, Carnethon MR, Fly AD, Luo J, Haas DM, Shikany JM, Kahe K. Association of magnesium intake with sleep duration and sleep quality: findings from the CARDIA study.Sleep. 2022 Apr 11;45(4):zsab276.doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsab276. PMID: 34883514; PMCID: PMC8996025.

  1. Burkhardt S, Tan DX, Manchester LC, Hardeland R, Reiter RJ. Detection and quantification of the antioxidant melatonin in Montmorency and Balaton tart cherries (Prunus cerasus).J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Oct;49(10):4898-902.doi: 10.1021/jf010321+. PMID: 11600041.

  1. Chung J, Choi M, Lee K. Effects of Short-Term Intake of Montmorency Tart Cherry Juice on Sleep Quality after Intermittent Exercise in Elite Female Field Hockey Players: A Randomized Controlled Trial.Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Aug 18;19(16):10272.doi: 10.3390/ijerph191610272. PMID: 36011907; PMCID: PMC9408103.



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